Fan thinks Japanese linguistic stubbornness is limiting the potential audience of Japan’s artists and creators.

You really can’t overstate the massive scale of Comiket, Japan’s twice-a-year gathering of dojinshi (independently published comic) artists. Hundreds of different creative groups participate in the multi-day market, and with most being small organizations without big marketing budgets, it’s generally up to shoppers themselves to find the booths that are selling the items they’re looking for.

To make that process a little easier, Comiket assigns location codes to each booth inside Tokyo Big Site, the event’s convention center venue. But while that system works reasonably well for Japanese fans, the codes have a major shortcoming when it comes to helping foreign otaku, as pointed out by bilingual Japanese Twitter user Rich Mikan (@richmikan).

Rich Mikan became aware of the situation when he was talking to a foreign Comiket shopper who was looking for a certain group’s booth, which Rich Mikan knew the code for. Booth codes consist of a phonetic kana character, a number, and a Latin alphabet letter. In this case the code was ヨ46a, and that ヨ, read as “yo,” was a major communication roadblock for the foreign fan.

But ヨ isn’t that complicated a symbol, and if a helpful Japanese person jotted it down for you, you’d be able to easily find the booth without any other language skills, right? Not necessarily. The “alphabetic order” for Japanese isn’t the same as the one English uses. Instead, Japanese words/kana are ordered through a combination of their initial consonant and terminal vowel sound. For example, ヨ/yo comes after ユ/yu and before ラ/ra, so unless know both how to read kana and their order, having the booth’s code probably isn’t going to be enough to navigate the Comiket floor.

▼ Turn back if you notice the vegetation starting to get especially thick.

It seems like a multi-segmented, purely numeric code, or one that uses only numbers and Latin letters, would be more broadly understood, considering that the average Japanese person’s understanding of the Latin alphabet/alphabetic order is much stronger than the average foreigner’s grasp of the corresponding kana concepts. However, Rich Mikan’s observation of Comiket’s current code protocol’s potential problems wasn’t met with much sympathy when he tweeted about it in Japanese, which resulted in responses including:

“Even if there are a lot of foreigners who come to Comiket, it’s still and event that’s being held in Japan.”

“If people are going to come to Japan, I want them to learn Japanese.”

“If they can’t read kana, they’ll just have to take searching by trial and error as part of the fun of the event, and if they can’t, they’ll just have to learn how to read them, or find someone who can give them directions without using the code.”

“Pretty much all the dojinshi sold at Comiket are in Japanese, so if someone can’t read Japanese, there’s really not much point in coming to Comiket, is there?”

Setting aside the gap in logic from the last comment (a lot of shoppers at Comiket because they like the medium’s artwork, even without understanding the dialogue and story), this might seem like a cold response from a country that prides itself on customer service and hospitality, but it could have something to do with the fact that for some time Comiket’s exhibitors have firmly held that the shoppers aren’t customers, but simply fans participating in an event. That attitude may have been born out of a necessity to present the event in as non-commercial a way as possible, since a huge portion of the items sold at Comiket make unlicensed use of copyrighted anime/manga characters, with the industry turning a blind eye to the practice as long as creators are of “amateur” status and produce their work in small batches.

That atmosphere also means, though, that Comiket doesn’t always operate under the prevailing Japanese business wisdom that the customer is always right and must be accommodated in every way. So even as Rich Mikan lamented later in the thread that language barriers are a severe limiting factor for the works of Japanese artists, it won’t be a surprise if Comiket sticks with its current booth code system for some time to come…

…so here’s a kana order chart (start at the left, proceed to the right, and then drop down to the next line) in case you’re still learning Japanese, or just at Comiket for the visual appeal.

Source: Twitter/@richmikan (1, 2) via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso, SoraNews24
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he learned how to read the kana バ to make it easier for him to look for Bubblegum Crisis soundtrack CDs.